Callum woke suddenly and all at once, with the exact same clarity as the first time he’d been woken with magical healing. While he couldn’t remember everything that had happened with surety, he did know he’d been terribly, terribly careless. He should have teleported away the moment he sensed another mage on the edge of his perceptions. At the time he’d thought it might be one of the Larsons, since they did live there after all, but since he’d basically never seen them out of their store he should have smelled a rat.
A pair of shifters suddenly moving, and moving quickly, had been what twigged him that something was wrong, but a flush of panic had frozen him for a critical few moments. It hadn’t been the shifters that had taken him down, though, because he had a vague recollection of being shot with something. So it was probably some equivalent of a sniper, but that wasn’t any comfort. More the reverse, since it showed that they were properly equipped to neutralize someone like him, and do so safely. At least they’d gone with the nonlethal option rather than putting a bullet through his head from five thousand yards, but it was exceedingly unpleasant to find out that they could outrange his sensory range.
Of course his major mistake was his continued contact with Gayle. Once he’d gotten his hands on that homebond and the spatial enchants he should have just vanished, no matter how much his basic sense of decency rebelled at the thought. Even if he’d done that, he never should have agreed to meet her again after resolving her issues to his satisfaction, let alone followed through with it. He’d just been so glad to have a normal interaction that he’d overextended.
He was pretty well screwed now, though, the pleasant fullness of health giving way to a curdled gut as the full impact of things caught up with him. The Mages In Black had come to take him away and he should probably be thankful that they weren’t at this very moment pulling fingernails or whatever just on the principle of the thing. Callum’s thoughts started to scatter away and he took a few deep breaths, squeezing his hands into fists as he surveyed the room he was in with his spatial sense.
It was heavily warded, enough that he couldn’t push his senses out past it without a lot of time and effort. The interior of the room was just two chairs and a table, not unlike the interrogation room he’d been held in when they’d first found him. The big difference was that this one had no door, and that he was cuffed to the chair that he was in.
There were extra bands around his wrists and ankles that registered oddly to him, distorted and opaque, obviously enchanted but with something far beyond his knowledge. He was also dressed in a plain sort of coverall, rather than his original clothing, but he couldn’t say that was a surprise. In fact, that was more or less what he had anticipated.
Callum focused inward, and found that his teleporter chip was still where it was supposed to be, down in his abdominal cavity. He almost groaned in relief at the discovery, but suppressed it, instead concentrating on feeding vis into the little focus buried in his gut. Even that much flexing of his internal energies stirred his vis against his skin, and the bands crackled, sucking up the excess vis and sending an unpleasant sensation through him, something worse than the jangling of his teleport field.
He froze, muscles twitching in protest, but the restraints only siphoned off the vis that extended out of his actual body. Though Callum hadn’t intended on casting anything, it was clearly impossible while wearing the bands. Or, well, impossible for him. He was fairly certain they wouldn’t have weighed him down with so many if they were foolproof.
They probably had known the moment he was awake, but Callum finally opened his eyes, shifting around to hide the fact that he was focused on channeling his vis inward. It would take minutes for the thing to charge, and he really hoped that the bands didn’t stop it from working. He didn’t think they would, since they weren’t sucking his vis out through his skin, but they’d probably cut him off from making more so he had to do it on a single tank, as it were.
The interrogation room looked as bare to his sight as it did to his senses. White walls, white floor, white ceiling, white ceramic table and chairs. It was only the different shades of white that really did much to separate one from another. The sterile, almost surgical feel was chilling, and the only thing that it was missing to be straight out of some horror movie was a blood drain in the floor.
His jumpsuit was grey rather than the jail-orange he’d expected, but was still the classic prison-wear he’d seen in media. The situation looked about as bad as it could be, and the only thing that eased the hammering of his heart in his chest was the slow trickle as the teleporter focus charged. From his experience it took about five minutes, which meant he had to hope they’d try to talk with him longer than that.
Callum half-expected that he’d be kept waiting, though his knowledge of interrogation techniques was limited to certainly-inaccurate police procedural shows. Less than thirty seconds after he stirred, though, two people appeared in a twisting of teleportation magic on the far side of the room. The glimpse he caught of it implied that the enchantment for it was wound into the ward structure.
One of the two was a square-jawed man dressed in plain black with no markings, some kind of uniform that looked vaguely tactical, rather than formal. The other was a familiar face, the weird toothy fae agent from the Department of Arcane Investigation that had come to his house in Winut. By contrast, her uniform was blue, formal, and even had a number of insignia and medals on it.
The fae took the seat across from him, while the tactical guy stood behind her with arms crossed. He had the usual bubble of a mage, but the shields were a lot more intricate and powerful than Callum had seen before, and the bubble very clearly had been extended to cover the fae agent. Callum didn’t think the guy was just a bodyguard though, since he was pretty sure he’d seen the man’s face before someone had reduced him from semiconscious to unconscious.
“Mister Callum Wells,” the fae said, which at least confirmed that he’d been identified. Not that he was surprised. “We have many questions for you.”
He raised his eyebrows at her, but didn’t reply. In truth he was thinking about how to play the conversation, because while he wanted it to take some time, he also didn’t want to give anything away. Or anyone. His habit of using burner phones and discarding them regularly should protect Lucy and Harry, but there was no way they’d miss the cache of records he’d gotten. Hopefully those had been scrubbed of anything that would identify either Harry or Chester as the source.
“You are Callum Wells, spatial aspect?” She prompted.
“That’s my name,” he admitted. The words came out commendably steady. If it weren’t for the magical healing he’d probably have been croaking them, and as it was his mouth felt dry.
“Were you complicit in destroying the vampire nests in Winut, Choral, Kenneshaw, and New Agers?” For some reason, it surprised him that she went ahead without any introductions or even a cursory reading of rights or the like. Though he doubted he exactly had rights at the moment.
“That’s quite specific. What makes you think that I was?” It took him a few moments to decide on the appropriate wording instead of blurting things out. They had him dead to rights, but he wanted to know how. He might have missed some obvious trace or it could have just been them assuming the rogue mage and the mysterious killings were connected due to Occam’s Razor.
Oddly, the fae frowned and glanced back at the Mage In Black, who shook his head ever so slightly. She glanced back at Callum and sighed, drumming her fingers on the desk. Eventually, though, she came to a decision.
“Really, your enchanted steel already gave that away; we’re more curious as to why.” The agent crossed her arms. “It’s a blatant violation of GAR law and it doesn’t even seem to be your problem. The history we have on you is suspect but if you are just a late-bloomer from West Virginia, you have no business being out here.”
“Why?” Callum struggled to keep his face straight, because of all the things to give him away he didn’t think it’d be the stuff he used to clean up his tracks. In hindsight it was obviously an issue. it took hours for the enchantment to dissipate and he’d used the ball bearings in places where no ball bearing should really be. “Did you know the vampires in question were murdering people?”
“That’s not really relevant,” she said, and he shook his head at her. He didn’t want to be too flip, since he didn’t want the guy lurking behind her to wander over and give him a few restrained beatings for his lip, but he thought the best way to play things was as someone not impressed by their authority. Which was true enough, since what he was really impressed by was their ability to wield force.
“It is to me,” he told them. “From where I sit, the question isn’t why I had an issue with those vampire nests, it’s why you didn’t.”
“So long as they stay within their allotment, they are still within GAR mandates. What you did—” The agent cut herself off, realizing she didn’t have to justify herself to Callum. “So, to the next question. Was anyone else involved? Do you know what happened to Chase Hall?”
Callum nearly laughed. Though he didn’t much blame her for not realizing he was Chase Hall, since she’d only seen him the one time under that guise, and he’d been sure to make Professor Brown look different than Mister Hall. He pressed his lips together instead, considering whether or not he should admit his alternate identity. His initial instinct was to deny everything, but that game was up. The best he could do was try and get information from them instead.
“Interesting that you should bring him up,” Callum said. “Why was it that you told him he was a signature witness?”
“I’m not here to answer questions, Mister Wells,” the agent said with annoyance, but the Mage In Black shifted slightly, as if he’d seen something interesting in Callum’s reply.
Callum realized that he couldn’t be too clever with the questions and answers. He wasn’t trained in espionage or counterintelligence or even in how to answer questions properly without a lawyer. Given any reasonable length of time and he’d either betray something he didn’t mean to or give them a reason to break out the torture equipment. Really it was all stalling for time while he trickled vis into the focus in his gut.
“Well,” Callum said with a shrug. “So far as I know he’s fine.”
“And where might he be?”
“I have no idea,” Callum said, amused at how true it was. He really didn’t have any idea where he was.
“We’ll come back to that,” the agent said. “Who do you work for?”
“Myself,” Callum replied promptly. “I always have. Never got along with bosses. It seems I have problems with authority.”
“Very funny,” the agent said, without any enthusiasm at all. “You may see some leniency if you name all the members of your organization.”
“You know, I’m not clear on exactly what I’m facing here. I’m not even sure who you all are, or under what pretense you dragged me in.”
“Yet, you weren’t very surprised when you woke up here,” she pointed out. “Don’t be disingenuous, Mister Wells. You’re quite aware of all the reasons you’re here.” Callum shrugged at that. He was hoping for more elaboration of the statutes since he’d never actually seen the full set of GAR laws. The MIB took a step forward, standing beside the agent rather than behind her. She glanced sideways at him, but leaned back to yield the floor to him, confirming that he was more than a bodyguard.
“You’re here under the auspice of the Bureau of Secret Enforcement,” he said in a low rumble. Which sounded like the most ridiculously totalitarian police Callum had ever heard of. “While the Department of Arcane Investigation is handling most of the aspects of this case, the BSE has a very specific question for you. Where did you learn about the techniques you informed Gayle of?”
“The what now?” Callum was genuinely confused. “I just found some stuff on focuses—”
“The offensive healing,” the BSE man interrupted.
“I don’t know what you mean. It seemed pretty obvious to me.”
“What was obvious?” He pressed.
“If healing can make the body change in one way, it ought to in another, and some of the failure modes for biochemistry are pretty strict.” Even as he spoke, he wondered if the issue was rather like spatial mages being no more than stevedores. Healing was rare, so it might be rather more guided and guarded than other aspects.
“Mister Wells, healing magic is magic, not biochemistry. Perverting its purpose with misapplied mundane ideas is abhorrent, and violates every guideline that Archmage Fane has laid down over the centuries. You have poisoned Gayle Hargrave’s future with your so-called obvious insights.” The BSE man clearly had a better measure of him than the agent did, because that was the first thing that actually bothered him.
“That, I do regret. I didn’t know that was such an issue. But how much trouble is it, really? She was trying to skip apprenticeship anyway.”
“She will have to enroll with the Bureau of Secret Enforcement,” he said darkly. “With the knowledge she already has, there is no other choice. She is lucky that Archmage Hargrave has taken an interest, or things might be worse for her.”
“It seems a little harsh to punish someone for something that anyone with a little education could figure out in a couple weeks,” Callum said, scowling.
“Gayle Hargrave is exceedingly talented,” the MIB declared. Which she might well be, as it wasn’t like Callum had anyone to compare her to. “And it is a travesty that you’ve twisted her mind toward corpsecraft and death rather than giving life.”
“It’s your own damn requirements to have an offensive option,” Callum glowered at them. “Besides, if she’s that talented, the more fool you for hiding her away,” he told them. Part of him wanted to help Gayle somehow, but it was likely she, quite reasonably, blamed him for her trouble. If he got in contact with her somehow it’d only compound the issue. Which didn’t mean he was going to abandon the obligation he had to help her, if she wanted it, he’d just have to be circumspect. Besides, it sounded like he’d need to figure out the magical secret police in the future anyway.
“Were you trying to recruit her for your organization?” The fae spoke up again, cutting off a further remark from the MIB.
“A pocket healer would be a great idea, but no, I wasn’t doing any recruiting. I just saw someone struggling under unreasonable restrictions and thought I’d help.” The MIB’s eyes hardened at that and Callum thought he’d gone too far, but the fae merely grunted.
“You might make things easier on her if you were forthcoming about your organization,” the fae remarked. That almost made Callum lose his temper, but he managed to restrain his tongue. Instead he contemplated them for a moment while he wrestled with himself, then finally spoke.
“I suspect Archmage Hargrave will not be happy—” He nearly lost his train of thought as the teleportation focus suddenly flashed into full activation, thrumming uncomfortably through his body, just under the skin. “—you’re using her as a bargaining chip when trying to question me,” he managed to finish with only a minor stumble.
“I think you underestimate the seriousness with which BSE takes a rogue organization,” the MIB said with disapproval.
“I don’t think I do. Any such thing would be an existential threat to the little dictatorship you have. It’s simply that after this conversation, none of you are going to see me again. But I might be seeing you.”
“Threats, now?” The MIB scoffed.
“It’s not a threat. I’m just telling you what’s going to happen,” Callum said, and triggered the teleportation focus.
Ray swore as Callum Wells vanished from inside the locked, heavily warded interrogation chamber, the blocker cuffs rattling as they tumbled to the floor and the jumpsuit silently slumped into the chair. Agent Zhen, the BSE agent overseeing the interrogation, slapped the panic button and additional wards went up, doors closing and locking of their own accord. Agent Denver, inside the room, flashed his shield, obscuring both Felicia and himself from view as Zhen rattled off code into his headset.
“Case Samekh; alert level four, units five through nine sweep and clear, origin A-7; Dalet, set auth two five two.”
“How the hell did he do that?” Ray said, as a squad came stomping down the hallway to properly clear the observation room and interrogation cell. It would have been better to ask why he did that. If Wells could teleport out of cuffs and through BSE wards, then he hadn’t been captured. He’d allowed himself to be taken.
Which meant he wanted to be there, and that was worrisome. Ray had no idea what the man’s game was. Was there something within the BSE building he was after, or someone? They already knew he was incredibly dangerous, even if they didn’t know how, so he could do a lot of damage if he got free inside a secure site.
It certainly didn’t help that his group had something that could nullify fae compulsion. Felicia’s voice hadn’t worked on Hall, and didn’t work on Wells. He didn’t know of any mage foci that could do that, and he knew there wasn’t any magic around Hall, so he had to consider there were fae involved in the organization as well. Overall, it seemed like a horrible looming mess of a threat.
“It might be he can get around magic-blocker cuffs and the wards,” Zhen said, tearing Ray’s attention away from inward contemplation, and standing away from the controls and letting the BSE squad check everything over. “If he’s actually Archmage level, it’s possible. It may be that he had a homebond implant, but we checked for that. It’d have to be some model we’d never seen before.”
Ray grimaced. Implanted focuses were not exactly common, partly because they were illegal, but mostly because it was extremely difficult to direct vis somewhere a mage couldn’t sense. They were generally placed right under the skin, so a mage could fill it by touch, though tooth implants were popular in certain quarters. Not that Ray had ever had one, but he knew they existed.
A homebond implant was on the obscene side of rare and expensive, given the demands put on the relatively few spatial mages and the limitations on proper enchanting materials. Teleportation enchantments required the absolute purest materials. Duvall kept them from being overwhelmed, but there was an insatiable appetite for more teleports, more homebonds, and more spatial storage. The Archmage had a waiting list a mile long.
If someone else was making spatial enchantments, that was unheard of. One that couldn’t be detected by a resonator was even more worrisome. Unfortunately, there was no real consideration given to something that shouldn’t have existed.
They hadn’t run him through an x-ray machine or the like; there weren’t even any on the premises. With dedicated healers, none were ever needed. Even checking for focus implants wasn’t exactly standard procedure, though in this case they’d made the extra effort, running a magic resonator over his whole body. If there had been anything that a mage could sense to target, the resonator ought to have alerted them. Between the magic-blockers, cuffs, and being completely stripped of all foci, he shouldn’t have been an issue.
“Blood tracking?” Ray asked, and Zhen nodded, speaking into his headset.
“Rheonor? I need a blood tracker on Callum Wells, the one we just sent over. Great.” Zhen waited, then nodded and looked to Ray.
“Wells isn’t in the facility. Rheonor’s trackers have a ten mile range and last through sunrise.”
“I’ll take Felicia and get my glider,” Ray offered. With a ten mile range and some fifteen hours to go, there was really very little chance of being able to find the man’s bolt-hole. It was presumably somewhere in the United States, but it would take a lot of luck to stumble across it.
“We have a Transporter on standby,” Zhen said, not too unkindly. Ray didn’t much like it, but he had to lump it. This was more the BSE’s case than his, now, though at least he could make a report on the identity of the murderer. The subsequent escape, though, that was something that would probably stay redacted for a good long time.
On the other hand, if BSE was taking over, Ray wouldn’t have to deal with the fallout from whatever Wells had been up to. Which was something of a relief. The case had been cryptic and frustrating from the start, and to end in so spectacular a blunder would have been bad for his career, and that of his partner.
Felicia gave him a questioning look as they met up in the halls underneath BSE headquarters, the two of them following an escort out to less secure areas. Even though both of them were DAI agents, Secret Enforcement trumped their authority. He returned it with a brief shake of his head, not wanting to complain about their hosts while still in earshot.
“Where is he?” The Archmage that confronted them the moment they stepped outside the secure area was not the Archmage that Ray was expecting. He didn’t know where Hargrave had gone, but it was Duvall that was standing there, looking irate. Ray had never seen her in person, but the House uniform made it very clear who she was.
“If you mean Callum Wells, he is no longer in DAI custody,” Ray said carefully. He wasn’t going to spill what had happened without authorization, even to an Archmage. “The Bureau of Secret Enforcement is in charge of things now.” He did, however, have no compunction about throwing BSE under the bus.
“Secret-keeping whoresons,” Duvall swore under her breath, and vanished with a flare of vis. Ray figured her interest in the matter was because she was a spatial mage. The spatial mage, really. She’d pioneered portals and teleportation over three hundred years ago and, most importantly, spatial expansion enchantments. She snapped up every spatial mage that appeared, probably because she needed them for the GAR teleport network.
Their escort shot them a betrayed look, and Ray shrugged. He sure as hell wasn’t going to risk an Archmage’s wrath. Even if spatial magic wasn’t exactly fearsome, she might ban him from the network or something.
“C’mon,” he said to Felicia, heading for the teleport out. “I’ll fill you in.”
“I guess my first instinct was right,” Agent Jahn said, looking down at his coffee. “He played a pretty damn convincing mundane, though. The question is, what is his connection to Scaletooth?”
“The real question here is: how is there one of my spatial mages running around that I wasn’t told about,” Archmage Duvall snapped. “I’m the Archmage here, they go to me! No exceptions. When I find out what House is conniving behind my back, there will be hell to pay.”
“That is absolutely something we’ll look into,” Zhen said seriously. “It sounds like there’s more than just him, too. I could tell we caught him off-guard asking about Chase Hall, so there’s some avenue of attack there, if we can ever find the man again.”
“Which I doubt,” Jahn said mournfully. “Both Wells and Hall were only found because they got caught up in other things.”
“We’ll need those records,” Zhen told him. “If this group is dabbling in restricted magic, we need to know everything.”
Jahn grimaced. That had been the most surprising thing to find out, though he did agree with Callum a little bit. Some of the so-called restricted magic was not particularly difficult to figure out, provided the mage in question educated themselves in mundane topics. Though few mages did, and mixing with mundanes wasn’t exactly encouraged.
The incident with young Gayle Hargrave was quite unfortunate, as healing was one of those aspects which was carefully managed. Unless one specifically designed their shield to block it, healing aspect would resonate with a mage’s vis instead of being blocked by it. Archmage Fane could instantly kill a roomful of mages without even seeming to do anything, and in fact, had.
Most people didn’t know it, but Fane was the mage equivalent of the nuclear option.
What would become of Gayle remained to be seen, but she was going to have to be pulled into the deeper levels of GAR regardless, and become properly briefed and trained on being an offensive healer. The major sticking point was Archmage Hargrave becoming personally involved, because that pulled House politics into everything. Thankfully that wasn’t his problem, but he still had an Archmage actually present he needed to handle.
“Considering that they may have some access to restricted knowledge, is there any light you might be able to shed on matters for us, Archmage Duvall?” Jahn asked politely. “We did not generally consider spatial mages to be particularly dangerous, but you are the expert.”
“It’s not. Spatial is the only completely peaceful affinity. There are some advanced tricks, it’s true, but nothing that would threaten an actual person.” Duvall sneered. “Maybe mundanes, but not people.” Her hard gaze pinned Jahn to his chair. “He’s being used by someone else for this evil work because of your incompetence in not finding him earlier. Fix that, or I will make sure your career ends here, John,” Duvall finished, mangling his name.
“Yes, of course, Archmage,” Jahn said, concealing a wince. It was useless to wish the past was different, but he regretted picking up Callum Wells in the first place. “We might start with Hall, given how each of the incidents involved the more mundane applications of force.”
“I don’t really care,” Duvall said dismissively. “I want him found, and I want him turned over to me. I want to know who taught him, and I want to know what his bloodline is. Everything! I get only one space mage every thirty or forty years at best, and I need every one I can find just to maintain my transport system!”
“We’re doing the best we can,” Zhen said.
“Do better,” Duvall replied.
Lucy had long ago leveraged her IT support credentials into proper surveillance of the GAR computer network. Nothing too untoward, of course, since there were people who would notice significant prying and whose attention would be disastrous. Still, she had a number of notifications to alert her to anything significant being discussed in unencrypted emails or texts from company phones.
Her work office was a bit of a dungeon, with a partly-purposeful rat’s nest of cables going to servers and big monitors displaying indecipherable network traffic graphs for anyone that happened to poke their heads in. She, personally, had a smaller setup with a bunch of laptops and some privacy-screened monitors that was more discreet. It was inside a smaller enclosure with a fridge and a bathroom so she didn’t have to wander out into GAR proper. That was partly for privacy, but partly because she wasn’t a mage and people knew it.
Much of her private area was taken up by a pair of 3D printers, one for metal and one for plastic, along with a worktable strewn with microcontrollers and electronic prototyping miscellanea. There were a few microdrones and similar toys as well, which she used for occasionally carrying memory sticks or the like around the office. Not that she couldn’t walk, it was just more amusing to pilot a drone to do it.
She had long ago automated most of her part of GAR’s network, which was relatively small and tame compared to mundane corporate networks. The servers didn’t even use the same protocols as mundane ones for everything, so network traffic was fairly sedate and most of her actual labor had to do with fixing people’s email accounts or adjusting privileges. Most of her work time was actually spent watching videos or snooping around for her other job.
Normally she only got a few low priority pings, barely anything worth mentioning. GAR was, for the most part, a fairly boring bureaucracy and nobody much cared about the budget for the next fiscal year or who was taking the lunches from the third-floor break room refrigerator. None of that interested her.
The alert that went off regarded Professor Brown, aka Chase Hall, aka the Vampire Ghost Killer. That had settled some in recent days, as a lack of any further action meant a lack of any further gossip, but she still scrambled for her computer and started skimming through what her programs dumped into her personal devices. When she started reading she felt a flutter of panic, a chill going down her spine, but when she sorted out the abrupt ending of the communications, she started laughing.
“You got away from the spooks? Goddamn. Way to go, big man!” She turned and got a soda from her fridge, since she didn’t have any alcohol in her corner office, and lifted it in a toast. “Here’s hoping I hear from you soon.”
END BOOK ONE